Both Chernyshevsky and Dostoevsky are known as famous Russian authors. They wrote controversial novels (about life in prison) that have impacted the Russian society. Dostoevsky was mainly known for his complaints about the Russian society in his novels, while Chernyshevsky is remembered for his perspective on feminism.
As a professor of Russian history, I highly recommend students to read these books in order to understand Russian history and the meaning of equality and justice in society.
Overview of Chernyshevsky
Chernyshevsky is known for his perspective on social issues. “He grew up in a family of pastors. However, he discovered that he was not fond of religion” (Swarthmore College). He knew from that time what he should study. “During university, he read many Western authors such as Feuerbach, Blanc, Proudhon, and Fourier. Throughout his readings, he learned that liberalism cannot change the world. Eventually, he ended up pursuing a Master’s degree in St. Petersburg State University. Chernyshevsky was mainly fascinated by the society and the laws that were implemented” (Encyclopedia Britannica Online). This inspired him to discover more about the world. “Therefore, in his Masters’ thesis, he shifted into socio-economic questions” (Swarthmore College). Unfortunately, his thesis was rejected since “his writings were not approved of the government” (Swarthmore College). Keep in mind that during this time period, freedom of speech was not allowed.
Furthermore, “Chernyshevsky was greatly influenced by intelligentsia. In 1854, he joined a group called Sovremennik, [contemporary in Russian].” The group focused on social and economic evils” (Encyclopedia Britannica Online). Chernyshevsky wanted to participate in order to better the society. However, “when he discussed his opinions, the landowners accused him for starting up hatred” (Encyclopedia Britannica Online). As a result, “he was arrested in 1862. During prison, he wrote the book “What is to be Done?” Which documented his prison experience and his thoughts about Russia” (Swarthmore College). The novel is dark but can be useful when discussing the inequalities of society. “Another famous work of his is “Vera Pavlova’s Dream.” The book inspired many women to pursue medicine, just as what Vera Pavlovna did. While for the men, the book led them to support women’s education” (Swarthmore College). In a way, Chernyshevsky impacted the perception of gender in society. Although many people were ambivalent about his ideas, they continued to influence Russia. “In fact, a subway stop in St. Petersburg is named after him” (Swarthmore College).
There are many questions to be answered in the book. What I find fascinating is the way how Chernyshevsky can incorporate his personal life into the society of the book by talking about the flaws of the Russian society. As a result, Chernyshevsky is a bold character and focuses out of the social norm.
Fyodor Dostoevsky was mainly known for his novels “The Brothers Karamazov” and “Crime and Punishment,” and for his novella “Notes from the Underground.” When reading his books, “literary modernism, existentialism, and various schools of thought can be shown. What was surprising was that he accurately predicted what would happen in the Russian Revolution” (Encyclopedia Britannica Online).
“He was educated as a military engineer. However, during his journalism career he began to discover many insights. His act for participating in the Petrashevsky Circle (who were a group of individuals who discussed utopian socialism) led to his arrest. The mock execution ceremony he experienced during his punishment led him to write ‘Crime and Punishment.’ In the books, he expressed the trauma of his arrest, mock execution, prison in Siberia and exile. For example, in the Brothers Karamazov, he wrote about how certain crimes cannot be forgiven. In “Diary of a Writer,” Dostoevsky fulminated bad things he saw in the Russian society” (Swarthmore College). Another example is his book ‘Zapiski iz myortvogo doma (House of the Dead), where he wrote about horrors that he witnessed such as abuse and torture” (Encyclopedia Britannica Online). “In fact, these novels were called “novels of ideas since a lot of philosophical theories were incorporated in the stories” (Encyclopedia Britannica Online). What was “different from Dostoevsky and the Russian authors was his social class. He was always in need of money, unlike Tolstoy” (Encyclopedia Britannica Online).
There are many similarities between the two authors since they wrote about Russian society, predicted events in the future and faced similar lives. Their books give us a different perspective about human nature and the dark side of Russian history. Furthermore, both of these books are about the realities of punishment. Most importantly, these two authors give us a perspective their viewpoints and opinions about the Russian Empire.